James Ward-Prowse has impressed during his first few games in claret and blue, notching up three assists and a goal but according to Saints supporters Mike Driver, David Brown and Glen de la Cour, there’s more to come. The England international is only 28 but was eleventh on Southampton’s all-time appearances list before his move to east London with 410 appearances. He was also an ever-present in three full Premier League seasons.
‘What you’ll notice from Prowsey is his obvious abilities in open play – the power and energy to tackle back, the vision and technique to pick out a perfect defence-splitting pass,’ Mike tells me. ‘But he’s also a man who pulls his team up around him, encouraging them to give 10 percent more, and leaving nothing out there whatever the opposition. These qualities will come through at West Ham across the season. It’s been a wonderful start but what you’ve seen is really just a snapshot of what Prowsey can do. He will energise the team, turn downed heads around and fire in a free kick or three between now and May.’
David chips in: ‘He always plays for the badge and gives 110% effort every time he steps onto the pitch. He was our captain too so you can expect leadership on and off the pitch.’ And Glen, who is involved with the Total Saints Pod (@totalsaintspod) and League One Minus 10 (@L1Minus10), adds: ‘He is outstanding at free kicks but that doesn’t mean he is average at everything else. He isn’t your Declan Rice replacement but will do a great job if partnered with the correct players in the centre of midfield. He’s also a proper sh*thouse. One of my favourite non-free kick moments was him getting Wilfried Zaha sent off at St Mary‘s.’
All three admit they were resigned to Ward-Prowse leaving as soon as their side were relegated. ‘I knew it would be impossible to keep hold of JWP,’ David explains. ‘If we didn’t let him go we’d be holding him back from playing top flight football which he thoroughly deserves. He is so much better than Championship football.’
Glen adds: ‘I attach no blame whatsoever to JWP for leaving. The blame for his departure completely lies with Southampton and our gradual decline over the last three years. JWP was captain but no one could really point a finger in his direction. You can only swim against the tide, carrying everyone on your back, for so long. It’s Saints’ fault he’s not spending his entire career here, not his.’
But Glen admits a few Saints fans actually wanted their former captain to play in the Championship for a season. ‘Their argument was that he was giving up his legend status but he isn’t really,’ he says. ‘Comparisons to long serving legends of the past don’t really stack up either. Matt Le Tissier has admitted he would’ve left if we had got relegated.
‘JWP could have stayed in his comfort zone here, that would have been the easy thing to do but he’s chosen to shake things up and prove himself again. Taking the emotion of being a Saints fan out of it for a second, I would have been a bit disappointed in him if he had stayed.’
And David says, for him, West Ham was arguably the best place for their star man to go. ‘I supported you guys through your European adventure last season and will be doing the same this season, especially now you have JWP,’ he explains. ‘I wanted him to go somewhere where he would be playing first team football and for a club that is passionate about every player on the pitch, and that is West Ham.’
Glen continues: ‘I don’t think he would’ve been on the radar of the really big clubs, so it was always going to be one at Europa League level. Fresh off of winning the Europa Conference League and therefore qualifying for the Europa league next season, and fresh from selling Declan Rice and needing midfield reinforcements, it didn’t surprise me to see him join West Ham .’
As for seeing Ward-Prowse wearing claret and blue, David says it still feels weird. ‘All I’ve ever known is him in a Southampton shirt,’ he continues. ‘it’d be a bit like seeing Mark Noble in a different shirt. It just feels odd.’
Glen adds: ‘Seeing him wearing a West Ham kit and doing little videos which end with “Come on you Irons” will never not seem odd.’ And Glen hopes that playing for West Ham will also help the midfielder’s chances of getting back into the England squad, despite Southgate’s recent snub.
‘Despite never letting England down when he has played, he’s found himself marginalised from Southgate’s squad. I’m sure JWP still harbours ambitions of playing international football and if he felt deep down that playing for Southampton in the Premier League was counting against him, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what playing for Southampton in the Championship is going to do for your chances.’
Meanwhile Mike believes wherever Prowsey goes, he’ll always carry affection for the club that gave him his professional debut 12 years ago, aged 16, in a League Cup quarter-final against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. ‘He’s got some good years ahead of him, but his four-year contract with West Ham allows for plenty of later-career potential back on the south coast, and we will welcome him back with open arms.’
David echoes this sentiment: ‘Although he is a Portsmouth fan at heart I reckon Saints have won him over from the love we have shown him. He’s done a lot for my club and I hope he succeeds at West Ham, but I hope he remembers that he’s always welcome back.’
Glen adds: ‘It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he comes home in three years’ time but we have to make sure we get back and stay in the Premier League first.’
Glen, however, feels that moving to West Ham was a risk for JWP. ‘Yes you have European football this season but West Ham always seems to be a club that lurches from one crisis to another.
‘It’s a risk because David Moyes always seems about two games from the sack and there were plenty calling for him to go even after winning a European trophy. He also has to satisfy a new fan base that historically has been very quick to turn if expectations are not met.’
But Mike believes that their former captain will have a season to remember. ‘Your new driving force in midfield will surely break the Premier League free kick record, which’ll hurt us as it’s achieved in a strip other than ours.’
David adds: ‘I hope he smashes it at West Ham. Two assists on his debut and a goal against Brighton, if this hasn’t impressed you enough, you definitely will be impressed by the end of the season. I’m also looking forward to seeing how well he performs in Europe for West Ham as it’s always been his dream.’
Glen concludes: ‘”Once a Saint Always a Saint” rings true for James Ward-Prowse and hopefully he’ll be lining up against us next season in the league.’